Was Yeshua Mistaken About Zecharyah?
Glenn Miller
edited by talmidbenjamin

    "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, `If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

    33 "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

    37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

    The historical reference to Zech b.Berekiah "seems wrong"--the biblical records we have might would indicate this individual to be Zech b.Jehoiada.

    The background of this question is interesting in itself. The Hebrew bible is laid out in a different order than the "Christian Old Testament." The Christian OT ends with the book of Malachi; the Hebrew bible ended with Chronicles. In the Hebrew bible, the first martyr-victim of pre-meditated violence was Abel (Gen 4.8); the last was Zechariah ben Jehoiada (2 Chrn 24:20-22). "Genesis to Chronicles" was to the Jew of Jesus' time what "Genesis to Revelation" would be to a Christian of today--a statement of completeness. In one phrase "Jesus was summing up the history of martyrdom in the OT. " (NIV Study Bible, notes, in.loc.)

    The 'problem' with Jesus' reference here is that the Zech killed in Chronicles in called the 'son of Jehoiada', whereas the Zech b. Berekiah refers to a much later prophet in Israel's history (Zech 1.1)--one of the very last, one of the most messianic, and one of whom we have no biblical data about the manner of his death.

    In this case, we have several good options--and so the challenge is picking the BEST one [any standard , semi-evangelical commentary will survey the 10 or so possible answers].

    The most probable one (IMO) is also the one that makes the most sense as a 'summary of OT martyrdom'-that Zech. b.Berekiah was ALSO killed the same way as Zech. b.Jehoiada. This actually makes the 'time span' of Jesus' statement even broader (and therefore more in keeping with the sweeping character of His statement and the thematic context of the statement.)

    This is a clean 'solution' if this can be made into a plausible suggestion, but is there any evidence to suggest this possibility?


    We know from the genealogical records in the Synoptic gospels, that the writers of the NT (and the participants in the narratives of the gospels) had access to extra-biblical information that we do NOT have access to. For example, there is genealogical information preserved, that spans the gap between the close of the OT writing and the beginning of the NT era, in Jesus' family tree. Those family/legal records were not included in the NT, but only those relevant to the appearing of Jesus and, to a limited extent, to John the Baptist.

    If Jesus, then, refers to some of this extra-biblical material in his discussions with other 1st century Jews, we are not confined to finding it in the OT text--it would be perfectly natural to find such material.

    In the case of Jesus' assertion that Z.b.B was killed in the same way as Z.b.J, we actually have several strands of extra-biblical material that suggest/support this.

    David H. Stern (JNTC:in. loc.) mentions two: "Josephus speaks of Zechariah the son of Barach as having been killed in the temple, and Targum Yonatan assigns the same kind of death to Zechariah the prophet."

    Blomberg (BLOM:194) gives two other external data points and points out that the similarities would not be that surprising:

    The fact that some rabbinic traditions (e.g. the Targum to La. 2:20 and the Midrash Rabbah on Ec. 3:16) also refer to Zechariah the prophet as being killed in the temple make the suggestion very attractive that Jesus is following extra-biblical tradition here. The coincidence of having two Zechariahs killed in a similar way leads many Jewish commentators to reject their traditions as also confused with error, but the coincidence is certainly not that impossible. After all, there are thirty Zechariahs in the Old Testament, prophets and priests were not infrequently murdered by their rivals, and it is not clear that the locations within the temple complex referred to by Matthew and Chronicles were identical.
    I also find it quite probable that the force of Jesus' argument ("you have killed all the prophets up to now") would have the greatest "punch" if the last martyrdom would have been the most recent and most explicit witness to Him--and Zech b.Berekiah is certainly that! [Cf. The "30 pieces of silver", the "your king comes on a donkey" and "the pierced YHWH" passages!] What this would mean this that the increased clarity of the revelation provokes an increased clarity in their rejection of God's will for themselves (cf. Lk 7.30: But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves). And since Zech. was a 'rebuking' prophet (!) with priestly ties, there is no particularly strong reason to doubt that he could very easily have been killed on 'holy ground,' (as his earlier namesake had been.)

    The passages above are often used by skeptics to argue that Jesus made mistakes (and therefore could NOT have been God--so Betrand Russel in Why I am not a Christian), but a close examination of the passages shows that this view is simply shallow exegesis, and without substance. Jesus admitted to not knowing something (in only one case that we know of), but He never claimed to know something in which we found Him to be wrong! (And for those of us who have been 'testing' His words for decades--a la Luke 6.48-49--most of us have to be honest and say He seems to know what He's talking about--whatEVER He says!)...fortunately for us...


glenn miller, 10/22/96 

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